Mr. Speaker, the cruelty provisions in Bill C-15B respond directly to the concerns of Canadians.
Over the past three years Canadians have been consistent and clear in their demands for action by the federal government to update the cruelty provisions and create stiffer penalties for acts of cruelty against animals. Bill C-15B would meet these expectations without changing the liability for intentional cruelty and criminal neglect. Nothing in the bill would in any way put at risk lawful and humane activities involving animals for purposes such as agriculture, hunting, trapping and research.
To be absolutely clear, the former minister of justice introduced an amendment that was adopted by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The amendment states that all justifications, excuses and defences available in common law would apply to proceedings under the animal cruelty provisions. The amendment is the latest in a series of modifications to the animal cruelty provisions to address the concerns of critics.
The animal cruelty provisions in Bill C-15B were contained in a previous bill, Bill C-17, which was introduced in parliament on December 1, 1999 and died on the order paper when the federal election was called in October, 2000. The amendments had two primary objectives. First, they would have consolidated and simplified the existing law on animal cruelty by organizing offences in a more rational way and removing outdated distinctions and expressions. Second, they would have enhanced the penalty provisions by increasing current maximum sentences such as terms of imprisonment, fines, and orders prohibiting the possession of animals, and by creating a new power to order offenders to repay costs incurred by humane societies in caring for animals they leave unattended.
Bill C-17 was enthusiastically supported by thousands of Canadians. However a number of associations representing agriculture, hunting, fishing and animal research made submissions to the Minister of Justice expressing specific legal concerns about the bill, largely to the effect that the amendments could increase the risk of prosecution for people engaged in such activities. The minister benefited from the input of these groups. Although Bill C-17 would not have increased the risk of prosecution for people engaged in lawful activities, the amendments contained in Bill C-17 and replicated in Bill C-15B contain several important improvements that would make the intent and effect of the law more clear.
Such changes include: spelling out the necessary criminal state of mind with words like wilfully or recklessly instead of leaving it to the courts to interpret the proper standard; offering a definition that clearly establishes a standard of criminal negligence and removes all doubt that simple or civil negligence is not enough; adding the word unnecessary to the offence of negligently causing pain to clarify that there may be situations where the pain caused is necessary; clarifying and limiting the scope of the offence that deals with trap shooting to shooting at animals the moment they are liberated and not some time after, which would leave no room for people to argue that the section prohibited pheasant hunts in enclosed spaces; and taking animal cruelty provisions out of the part of the criminal code that deals with sexual offences and public morals and placing them in a separate part, thus clearing up the concern that it is inappropriate to group animal cruelty offences with certain other types of offences. With that we fully agree.
These improvements more clearly establish that the law deals with criminal intent and criminal neglect rather than the causing of incidental or unavoidable pain to animals in the course of lawful activities.
I suggest to the hon. members of the House that the concerns of industry have been heard. The government has done everything that could reasonably be done to accommodate those concerns.
Bill C-15B does not need any additional tinkering. It is time to act. I urge all hon. members to do the right thing and pass the bill.